Monday, January 24, 2011

The lingering student

The class has drawn to a close and our minds are switching from teacher-mode to the meeting in five minutes across campus and to the journal submission deadline when we look up to realize that there's still one student who is lingering. Slowly packing his/her bag, hanging back from the gaggle of students leaving the classroom, this student is always the last student to leave. It is the Lingering Student. He/She will use the time to listen to all of the other student-teacher discussion and then might walk with you, ask you questions, or just wait until you say something to him/her. How do I know about this lingering student? I was one.

I lingered to ALL of my professors in graduate school. I waited until they were alone to ask my questions or to get clarification at the end of the class. I sought out the time AFTER all of the other students left to address the teacher. I made excuses to be in the classroom long enough to be the last to leave. I was a Lingering Student (LS)!

As a teacher, I realize how easy it is to become impatient (and sometimes frustrated) with the lingering students of the world. Sometimes, I have to do a mental check and remind myself that the lingering student is simply engaging in a different comfort level when it comes to communication. After all, I was that LS once upon a time.

For example, as a LS, I wanted to ask for clarification when other students weren't around because I was embarrassed to NEED clarification. I did not want anyone thinking I didn't "get it" and so I would wait and ambush the teacher after class by slowly and painstakingly packing up binders, pens, and paper. Additionally, I felt awkward speaking a question in front of the larger class. I simply prefer one-on-one communication so I could ask follow up questions. Lastly, and perhaps the best part of the LS life, I could get a direct response from the professor -- one that was individually tailored to my specific project/paper. I wanted the time after the class to casually, but still educationally, engage with the teacher. I was a LS. In fact, just this moment I realize that I still tend to do this at some meetings, on some committees, and even at the gym after yoga class! It is my "comfort zone" for communication interactions and it looks like it hasn't changed much.

As our semester begins and we learn who our students are, how they engage, and most importantly how they choose to interact with us, I have uncovered I have several that are LS-prone again this term. I am making a special effort to extend communication that is meaningful in those few moments where the student is slowly packing up or hanging back from the rest of the group. This morning, the goal was to avoid waiting for the student to ask me a question. Instead, as the classroom emptied, I turned and made a comment about how the content we discussed would relate well to the State of the Union speech tomorrow and gently provided a way for the LS to launch the questions stored in her mind all class period long. It worked wonderfully.

The LS is not an inconvenience and is not an annoyance--it is an opportunity! Reaching the students in multiple ways -- both during and AFTER class is simply part of the job. From one former Lingering Student to the professors of the world out there: please take the time to engage with us. It can make a powerful difference.

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